In good times, a year-over-year comparison of U.S. sales is perhaps the most popular statistic for tracking an auto maker’s monthly or quarterly performance. But in the midst of a prolonged downturn, prior-year comparisons often are less relevant, as they refer back to sales that were suffering in the same down market. This effect will become apparent as monthly sales in 2009 are compared with those in 2008, when the new-vehicle market began sliding in the face of rising gas prices, ...

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